Category Archives: Youth

Why we need the Peace Corps – then and now

This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease. ― Robert F. Kennedy

For reasons I can’t quite explain, the President’s proposed axing of the majority of nation’s volunteer programs is causing me unique and terrible pain.

Though hunger, homelessness, fake facts and betrayal inflict deeper wounds, the end of the Peace Corps is a stab in the back that I can neither explain nor overcome.  One of the several volunteer programs the President has targeted, the Peace Corps set the pace – for my generation it was an awakening to global awareness. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/us/politics/trump-budget-americorps-peace-corps-service.html?_r=0

As one who has known the privilege of living with hope, I shudder at the pall that this disastrous proposal to half essential volunteer initiatives casts on youth, the same young people who must understand, eventually inherit, believe in, protect and share this nation and this planet.

My focus on the Peace Corps is personal; it was the program that most affected my life and my world awareness.  Obviously I realize that the Peace Corps was then and this is now.  And yet for me the bold venture will always represent a willingness of youth to give, to learn, and, above all, to hope.  My life, and the lives of a generation of hopeful Americans, has been shaped in part by the dream and the reality that the Peace Corps represents.

Though I didn’t have the guts to join the Peace Corps, the tough decision made by my contemporaries inspired me to explore the world writ large.   The Peace Corps, by its very existence, expanded my world. In a sort of backup move, I answered without question the call to serve as ED of a national faith-based youth organization in Our Nation’s Capital, one of a host of similar groups in the front lines of civil rights and inter-faith collaboration.

From Peace Corps friends’ letters (yes, written epistles) I learned of others’ cultures, challenges, needs, how to listen, learn and share ideas and basic truths.  I learned from friends who shed their pretense of superiority as they explored with equals the principles that shaped this democracy.  Friends wrote of their experiences with others whose ways, though different from American ways, were viable and adaptable.  I learned about my friends’ efforts to be authentic seekers and tellers of truth.

Though the Peace Corps faced charges of “do-goodism” at the outset, it was not long before volunteers became frontline emissaries of American good will.

Over the years, the nature of the Corps changed radically.  Volunteers of all ages joined their younger colleagues – Lillian Carter being the poster grandma for a trend of seniors who brought skills, not to mention maturity, that strengthened the organization.   In time, joining the Corps became not so much a bold risk but a viable means of contributing to a “work-in-progress”.

And yet I keep thinking of those early volunteers.  What I realize is the ways in which their Peace Corps experience changed their lives and the lives and institutions they have shaped over the decades.   The expanded world views of those now-aging volunteers continue to make a difference.  Though they may not talk much about their years in Ethiopia or Nigeria the volunteer alumni have not abandoned the spirit of hope they shared with others and that they continue to keep hope alive back home.  https://www.peacecorpsconnct.org/cpages/home

 

 

 

Feeling good about feeling informed – in 140 characters

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance~~Plato

Since “information literary awareness” is on my mind this month, I resonated when I spotted this from the latest Journalist’s Resource: “Facebook and feeling informed: A proxy for news?” I loved the reference to the self-delusion of “feeling informed.”

The article cites a specific study and findings: “Appetizer or Main Dish? Explaining the use of Facebook news posts as a substitute for other news sources” published in Computers in Human Behavior, 2016.   There’s an abstract of the study online and a summary of findings in this Journalist’s Resource article: (http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/social-media/facebook-social-media-news-informed)

What stunned me most was to learn that 63% of Facebook users see it as a news source – a number that inflates to 74% among 18-34 year olds. In fact, when it comes to the meat of the story, Facebook sells only the sizzle, not the steak….

In a fleeting act of desperation I decided to go with the flow, to surrender to the times, to capitulate. So, to reduce the complexities of information literacy, search strategies and other pedagogical anachronisms, I propose that student researchers streamline the formalities of information literacy down to these elegantly tweetable basics:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Who said so?
  • When?
  • Whadda they know?
  • What’s their angle?
  • What difference does it make?
  • What’s my take on the story?
  • Can I say it in140 characters?

With apologies to the poet, doesn’t that cover “all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know?” I know I feel informed……

 

“Information Literacy”- Universal challenge of the digital era

Information’s everywhere so now we have to think

 As we reel in the barrage of misinformation, punctuated with provocative spurts of ignorance, it seems ironic – if timely — to note that October 2016 is National Information Literacy Awareness Month.  On the positive side, we should be keenly aware by now that this democracy, based as it is on an informed citizenry, faces an unprecedented challenge.

In truth the term “information literacy” makes me cringe, though I can offer no alternative. More to the point, my serious concern is to focus on the concept – that we keep the goal in mind as we struggle to sort through the maze of messages with which we are bombarded. So I use the term “infolit” and think about how we cope – individually and as a society — with the maelstrom.

Since the dawn of the digital era teachers and librarians have led the push to prepare youth to meet the challenge of the information age. The United States National Forum on Information Literacy offers a serviceable definition of infolit — to wit: “the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” The story of infolit is well-chronicled in a pair of lengthy Wikipedia pieces that provides references, definition, and basic background.

Still, today’s information-saturated environment presents a challenge for every lifelong learner – i.e. everyone. We are all in the same boat, struggling to stay afloat in a turbulent sea of information overload, misinformation, and truncated innuendoes. It is incumbent upon each of us, regardless of age, economic, social or education status, to hone the skills of discernment, to stifle the spontaneous reaction, to share information responsibly and thoughtfully – in a word, to think.

Though the month of October offers far too little time to overcome our digital gaps, we can begin by focusing on the reality that we are at a critical moment in the history of this nation and the world. As never before we engage as producers, intermediaries, receivers, and processors of information; it is incumbent upon us to consider the dimensions of our responsibility, to realize that all information is not created equal and that funding source, authority, intent, verification, and a host of other factors shape the content of the messages that bombard us. As citizens of the information age we must also recognize and respect our role as sources and sharers of information and ideas.

The challenge of the Information Age is to internalize the fact that information matters – and to act accordingly. Exchanges of ignorance are inane at best, potentially dangerous. To honor the intrinsic value of good information is not instinctive; it must be taught, learned and applied – until it becomes habitual.

At one point I thought to create an ad hoc list of materials to help young people sharpen their infolit skills. During that initiative it came to me that these exercises would be appropriate for any one of us. Masters though we may be of digital manipulation we might well take time to think critically about what’s known in some circles as “critical thinking”.

So this launch into Info Lit Awareness Month begins with titles for adults who may hope to hone their own thinking skills before sharing them with 21st Century learners. There nothing conclusive about this, the point being to encourage readers to think about thinking.

One starting point might be a dip into the website of The Critical Thinking Community for their thoughts on the subject: http://www.criticalthinking.org//

Though this library-centric reference may compound the info overload it offers a comprehensive overview of information seekers and their interface with resources and it sets the stage for thinking about the broad scope of the challenge:

http://www.wip.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/2015/oclcresearch-library-in-life-of-user.pdf#page=190

Following is a pot pourri of approaches to logical thinking, coping with fallacies, intelligent embrace of the Net and the scourge of intentional misinformation – needless to say this is the proverbial tip of the infolit iceberg:

  • Almossawi, Ali and Alejandro Giraldo. An illustrated book of bad arguments.
  • Bennett, B. Logically Fallacious: The ultimate collection of over 300 logical fallacies.
  • Cryan, Cran and Sharron Shatil, authors, with Bill Mayblin, illustrator.Introducing Logic: A graphic guide.
  • Mintz, Ann P, editor. Web of Deceit: Misinformation and manipulation in the age of social media. Numerous contributors.

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge;  It is thinking that makes what we read ours. John Locke

New and pending laws protect rights of students who write

NOTE: This post is for anyone who once lived life as a beat reporter, editor or even beleaguered adviser on a high school or college newsletter – daily or bi-weekly, print or digital.

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has just adopted a resolution that supports pending state legislation designed to protect the ability of high school/college journalists to write about issues of public concern without restraint or retribution.

The resolution states unequivocally:

A free and independent student media is an essential ingredient of a civically healthy campus community, conveying the skills, ethics and values that prepare young people for a lifetime of participatory citizenship.

ASNE action responds specifically to Illinois’ enactment of the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act. Illinois is the tenth state to pass laws that support students’ freedom of the press. Legislation is pending in Michigan, New Jersey – and yes, Minnesota.(https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/text.php?number=HF2537&version=0&session_year=2016&session_number=0)

The ASNE action is the tip of a grassroots movement. Other professional associations, including the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Journalism Education Association, have passed similar resolutions to support the rights of student journalists.

In fact, the support was coalesced into a national movement known as New Voices (http://newvoicesus.com), a project of the Student Press Law Center (www.splc.org). The mission of New Voices is “to give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern.”   New Voices “works with advocates in law, education, journalism and civics to make schools and colleges more welcoming places for student voices.”

Responding the support from the journalism professions, Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, observes that “the consensus of those most knowledgeable about how journalism is practiced and taught is overwhelming: Students can’t learn to be inquisitive, independent-minded journalists – or inquisitive, independent-minded citizens – when schools exercise total control over everything they say and write.”

The history of the Student Press Law is interesting in itself. It actually grew out of the work of journalist Jack Nelson, best known for his coverage of the Watergate mess and the Civil Rights movement. In a revealing book entitled Captive Voices, based on interviews with student journalists and their teachers, Nelson contended that censorship in schools was pervasive; the book was actually commissioned by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Fund. Nelson’s findings influenced national awareness of student journalists’ rights, which led to a partnership between the RFK Memorial, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to create the Student Press Law Center.

Today, the SPLC, headquartered in Washington, DC. provides free legal assistance and training for student journalists and their teachers. More about the SPLC, including a library of free legal research materials, can be found on the SPLC website (http://www.splc.org)

 

 

Shared stitches and stories strengthen TC’s neighborhoods

The human hand, so delicate and so complicated not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment. We might even say that man takes possession of his environment with his hands.

The thoughtful words of Maria Montesorri might serve as the mantra for the scores of young girls and boys and their “crafty” elders by participating in LitKnit (www.litknit.org). Throughout the Twin Cities LitKnit groups are popping up as folks of all ages catch on to the idea of this inter-generational community-building initiative that weds listening to and discussing good reads with learning and practicing a handcraft of choice.

LitKnit reflects a blend of Montesorri’s ideas with the spirit of founder Jaime Gjerdingen, a St Paul mom who reflects on the role that reading played in her own childhood. Remembering how reading helped her decipher and interpret a confusing world, Gjerdingen capitalizes on that strength to create communities in which neighbors read, talk and craft together.

Jaime’s vision is of a fairly structured inter-generational environment in which a trained facilitator/skilled crafter guides a gathering of neighbors – neighbors who live on the block or cul de sac, in the housing project or high rise, or otherwise share common space but not their lives. In Jaime’s words, “our goal is the long-term support of these groups, as we believe this engagement creates stable environments for people to truly get to know each other, learn a useful skill and deeply explore ideas together. We’ve found that these activities strengthen people beyond the skills themselves, helping them face challenges with hope and resiliency.”

LitKnit is gaining the attention of neophyte and veteran crafters, as well as supporters that include the Textile Center (www.textilecentermn.org), Crafty Planet (http://craftyplanet.com/about-us), and the American Craft Council (http://craftcouncil.org) housed in the historic Grain Belt Building in Northeast Minneapolis.  The Craft Council has even selected Jaime and the LitKnit project as their first member spotlight profile. (http://craftcouncil.org/post/acc-member-spotlight-jaime-gjerdingen) Jaime takes seriously the challenge to offer support for volunteer facilitators. All receive training on techniques, resources, back-up and more.  The members of the LitKnit peer circles meet once a month at various locations depending on members’ choice.

As Minnesota readers and crafters think beyond the State Fair and begin to plan for the months to come, the idea of blending books, crafts and getting to know the neighbors takes on a rosy glow.

All are invited to fan that flame by taking part in LitKnit’s inaugural CraftUp event. It’s Tuesday, August 11, 6-8 PM at Surly Brewing Company, 820 Southeast Malcolm, Surly’s much-heralded new site in Prospect Park. ((http://surlybrewing.com/destination-brewery/beer-hall-and-restaurant/#directions. This inaugural CraftUp is open to anyone with a hint of interest in crafting, listening to and talking about good books, teaching craft techniques to young people, community-building – or just enjoying an evening in the company of good people in the garden at Surly’s. $10 suggested donation to support the expanding work of LitKnit.

Bookcase for Every Child – An idea whose time has come????

What must be two decades ago now, midst a flurry of efforts to encourage and support early readers, Sherry Lampman observed that, while it’s great to give books to young readers, kids also need a safe place to store their treasures – they need bookcases.  Kids need to know that books are special, that books deserve special care, that a kid can actually own a book that is his or hers alone to treasure, that a book is to be read and read again.  Sherry’s intriguing idea has floated through my mind many times over the years….

Until just yesterday when I learned about the national “Bookcase for Every Child” project!    The project is thus described in the promotional materials:
“This project provides quality, personalized, oak bookcases, and a starter set of books, to pre-school children being reared in low-income families.”  The seed that Sherry had planted in my mind has taken root in Arkansas and environs.

Now copyrighted, the “Bookcase for Every Child” (http://www.bookcaseforeverychild.com) began nearly a decade ago in Conway, Arkansas.  There’s a comprehensive development plan that includes tips on who needs to be in the  “central committee” – the local librarian, a representative of the faith community, media reps, elected officials, a “literacy-minded banker” to serve as treasurer, and, of course, a “master craftsman to head up the bookcase builders.”

The erstwhile folks at Bookcase for Every Child are serious about all this – they also provide detailed information on just what resources the “master craftsman” and the building crew will need.  (http://www.bookcaseforeverychild.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=54&Itemid=72)

And they’ve made progress, particularly in the area around their starting point in Conway.  There’s a fun slide show that shows not only the finished bookcases, but the exuberant responses of builders and young readers alike.  (http://thecabin.net/slideshow/greenbrier/2014-05-27/bookcase-every-child)

I’ve had a fun time exploring the unique website sponsored by the project and the energetic project director, Jim Davidson (http://www.bookcaseforeverychild.com/index.php?option=com_contact&view=category&catid=12&Itemid=58)  Davidson’s energy and enthusiasm for the task rekindle that thought that Sherry had shared all those years ago.  Jim writes and believes and “bookcases save lives, bookcases with books save lives, reading saves lives, literacy saves lives….”   He is still working on the project from his home in Conway – Jim Davidson, 1 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034, 501-4507743.

I’m wondering now if Minnesota, land of 10,000 amateur craftsmen and grandpas, might offer a fertile growing environment for this special idea.  It can’t hurt to transplant the seed….

 

Leadership, local economy and lunch shape Farm to School Curriculum

Poking around is a persistent addiction.  Though the geography and focus shift with time, exploring new terrain simply expands the possibilities.  Thus, in my quest to spread the share the message of open government, I have had the privilege to meet with scores of great people who are doing amazing work on issues that include sustainable agriculture, the rural economy, the environment, children’s health, food safety,  family farms, ethnic diversity —  always looking for the open government thread that runs through just about everything – once you start looking for it.

All of this poking around reinforces my quest for practical examples of creative approaches to systemic thinking about critical issues – including creative thinking  about the confluence of healthy food and sustainable agriculture.  Thus my delight at the discovery of a treasure from a somewhat unlikely source – the new Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum recently released by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).  It’s fresh, fun and online for all to adapt and apply.

Farm to School offers a promising approach to engaging 11th and 12th graders to build leadership skills by working in partnership with food service staff, farmers and local food sources to re-think their own local food system —  to possibly take a hand in forging links between local farmers and the breakfast and lunch programs that both fuel and forge healthy habits in young learners.

The curriculum offers six lessons that may be taught consecutively over a semester or as single lessons or activities to complement other classes.  In order to make its way into the classrooms, Farm to School fulfills national and state curriculum requirements.  The goals range from promoting children’s health and “food literacy” to “strengthening local economies by expanding markets for small and mid-size agricultural producers and food entrepreneurs whose products have typically been unavailable in school meal programs.”

Erin McKee Van Slooten, who worked on the curriculum design, notes that “despite the rapid growth of Farm to School programs around the country, the legwork of connecting with farmers and sourcing local foods can often be difficult for school staff on top of their day-to-day work.  Our curriculum puts that work in students’ hands, while teaching them about their local food scene.”

Labeled a “youth leadership” project, the IATP curriculum is just that.   Natasha Mortenson helped construct the curriculum.  Reflecting on her experience as an ag educator and FFA advisor at Morris Area High School Mortenson  says that her “students have taken ownership of the Farm to School program in our school, and have developed leadership and team building skills as they completed tasks in learning about our local food system and seasonal availability.”  The goal, she says, is dual:  about implementing Farm to School and about “growing young leaders that understand how to build a program from the ground up.”

The Farm to School Youth Leadership Program was funded by the Center for e Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the John P. and Eleanor R. Yackel Foundation, the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Whatever your memory of or interest in your own experience, your business or your kid’s or grandkid’s school lunch you’ll find the IATP approach a departure from past experience.  Forget what was then, take a look at the full package on the IATP website – lots of background, great graphics  and tips on promoting the Farm to School concept and curriculum.

As we haggle over nutrition and costs,  and wring our hands about how some needy families have been mistreated by the present system,  take time to step back, grab a nutritious locally grown snack, and, with the help re-think the whole approach to a tired tradition with which the folks at IATP have had the grit to grapple.

Learn more on the IATP website

http://www.iatp.org/documents/farm-to-school-youth-leadership-curriculum-all-lessons-and-worksheets